Tearing down a non-race course is a lot like picking up all the wrapping paper after Christmas morning. It’s depressing to know you’re gonna have to wait a year before you get to do it again. This year, though, has been very different. One might even go so far as to say it’s been awesome.
A few days ago, I loaded up my pack and set out to tear down the Western half of the CAC2 Orienteering course. The following is my account of this truly badass day.
9 am: Woke up and checked to see if anyone I had invited was going to show up. No dice; this would be a solo venture.
10 am: Driving down Highway J, I see a bald eagle swoop down and pick up some roadkill. I nearly wrecked my truck watching it happen. This was surely a sign that today was going to be awesome.
12:05 pm: Parked the truck at the end of County Rd 354, hit the woods and started hiking North. I could already hear the water ripping down Cedar Creek. Before long, I was crossing a small feeder creek and started finding beaver chews. I love finding this kind of stuff.
About 20 minutes later, I arrive where the CP flag should be.. and it isn’t there. With CP flags being $9 a piece, this was disappointing, for sure. I decided to sit on the cliff and look around. Sure enough, I spotted the flag about 100 feet downhill from where it was originally placed.
After gathering the next two flags, I decided to slide down the hill and follow the creek Northward for a bit. I started noticing a bunch of Blue Heron cranes flying around, and when I stopped to watch them I realized I was in the middle of their nesting grounds. Blue Herons are known to make their nests in large Sycamore trees, so I sat under one and watched them fly in and out of their nests. It was very cool to watch these giant birds swooping around. They make the oddest sounds..
This was now uncharted territory along Cedar Creek, and since I’d forgotten to bring my map I wasn’t sure if I was still on public ground. The houses on the bluffs above would make me an easy target for someone wanting to shoot a tresspasser so I made my way into the wooded area away from the creek. Ascending the bluff, I found yet another clifftop with the most scenic view I’ve found to date. Check this photo out:
Getting to the top of that cliff was tricky; it’s overgrown with cedars and some kind of vines. But once I got there, I found a pretty cool slab of rock right at the edge where a person could sit and take in the view. Dangerous for sure, but a pretty awesome feeling to be that close to the edge.
I hung out there for a bit before heading back into the woods. When I cut back into the woodline, I noticed something below that demanded closer inspection:
The photo doesn’t do a good job of showing the steepness of the hill going down to the waterfall. I can assure you that it was at least mildly perilous. This is definitely one of my new favorite places.
This trip was just getting better and better. My plan had been to hike North along the creek until the second time it turned Northeast, then packraft my way back to the truck. I was almost sad when the creek turned, but I was super excited to get in the water. Making my way toward the water, I found this rock formation with a giant gorge in either side.
The terrain was too tricky to get a photo at the top, but I did snap this one from the bottom. If you look where I’m pointing, you’ll see two small caves at the base of the rock. I assume they connect in the middle, but we’ll have to verify that on an exploration trip very soon..
And now it was time for the fun part. I inflated my packraft and the $5 inflatable surfboard I was using for an inflatable floor. I put all of my stuff in a “waterproof” bag, (waterproof, my ass), and roped it to the back of the boat so it wouldn’t weigh me down. Then it was time for the fun part.
I found a nice calm pool where the water wasn’t moving too quickly and shoved off. At first, the water was relatively calm…almost relaxing. In several places, like the one pictured below, there are small trickles of water feeding the creek.
90% of the time, this creek is mostly dry. I’ve only ever seen it floatable after sustained heavy rains and/or flooding. And since the water level is never really constant, you just never know what the conditions will be like. Up until this point, there were very few strainers and only a small rapid or two.
The boat was doing well, my drybag was still floating and I had somehow managed to not drop my camera in the creek. I had no idea what time of day it was anymore, and that’s how I know I’m having a good day.
Little did I know the “drybag” was filling with water and all of my fresh clothes for after the float would be soaked. Coming around a bend in the creek, I could hear the rapids ahead and saw that I had to make a decision.
After that, things started happening a lot faster. A few quick rapids later I found myself dodging this little strainer.
I realize the video quality isnt the best, but you have to understand I was holding the camera in my mouth. By now I was full of confidence and ready for the next volley of rapids. This next video shows you why I bought a packraft in the first place. I’m sure these rapids would be no big deal in a whitewater kayak or maybe even a canoe, but in a small inflatable boat….excitement abounds.
I’m sure you could hear a *little bit* of fear in my voice on that one, but I assure you.. the fear was totally eclipsed by the excitement of that moment. Moments like those are the ones that make all your cares disappear. Your entire world is right there in the boat, there are no wandering thoughts of bills, careers or anything. All you think about is the spray in your face, the paddle in your hands and the ice cold water marinating your testicles….and I suppose you think about the friends you wish were there to share the experience.
**NOTE** This race report is presented to you as a collaborative effort; Bob, Luke and I (Casey) pieced this one together as a group so we could each give our own impression of this event. After many edits, re-edits, and more edits, we are happy to finally present it to you.
The original write-up is given in standard text by myself, Luke’s comments are presented to you in red, and Bob’s commentary is given in yellow. I added a response or two in blue.
As I sit and stare at my computer screen, I can’t decide where to start with the recounting of this race. Do I detail the injuries and training issues we had leading up to race day? No, that would bore both of you to death. Should I talk about our inability to decide between the 12 or 24 hour race? Maybe I should discuss my 14 hour drive from upstate NY to Oregon, IL and the luxurious accommodations at a $45.00 a night motel in Elkhart, Indiana?
Or the strange display of Indian (or to be politically correct – Native American) teepees they found in a small town along the way.
Too many possibilities…so I guess I’ll open with how excited we were to be doing this race. It was finally here. You see we’d been looking forward to this particular race ever since we finished Team High Profile’s 8 Hour Lightning Strikes Adventure Race, (LSAR) back in April. Our Camp Benson experience had literally changed our lives and become the new metric by which all future races will be measured. It was by far the best race we’d ever done and it was only an 8 hour race. A 12 or 24 hour race by the same race director would have to be pretty epic, right (or should I say “REAL”)?
We could only hope The Thunder Rolls 12 Hour Adventure Race (btw, we finally decided on the 12 hour) would be a 12 hour version of the 8 hour race we had experienced earlier in the year. It was nearly unfathomable, but if anyone could pull it off, Gerry Voelliger was the guy.
After checking in and getting our mind-boggling schwag bags, (worth nearly the cost of the race), we headed to the communal campsite to set up Team Virtus Camp, (TVC). Luke and I set up our Hennessey Hammocks between four trees at the back of the campsite. We asked Bob if he needed help assembling the enormous tent we had for him. He informed us that he was sure that it wasn’t going to rain, and that he was too masculine for a tent anyway. He had plans to sleep out under the stars like a “real man”. I think he was planning on channeling his inner Bear Grylls or some Winnebago Indian (Native American) spirits to be more prepared for race day. If him sleeping without a tent would help us do better in tomorrow’s race…I was all for it.
I should have known better than to leave my fine buttocks exposed while tying my shoes:
Since the ascending wall was open for practice, we changed into some race gear, hopped on our bikes, and headed over there to learn how to ascend. Ascending was the only discipline we failed to attend at the LSAR Camp, we just ran out of time. I figured ascending would be much harder than it looked…. And I thought it looked pretty difficult. We waited in line, watching people scamper to the top of the climbing tower some 30 – 40 feet above us.
It was obvious that some of these racers had ascended before, flying up the rope like they’re going to be in the next Mission Impossible movie. Others swung back and forth, struggling with the task but eventually got to the top. I was afraid I was going to look like one of these guys and flip-flopping my way up the wall..
After some instruction from one of the volunteers, I walked to the wall and began what turned out to be a physically exhausting and mentally taxing exercise. I tried to ascend as gracefully as possible, but I can tell you, without any doubt in my mind, failed… I was anything but graceful. I looked like young Sasquatch trying to “F” a football.
I went this way and that, back and forth. As I struggled, I received pointers from the staff and even began figuring some things out for myself. About half way up, it started to click and somehow I was really doing it. I felt less like a horny Sasquatch and more like a Ninja Warrior as I worked my way to the top.
Soon, I was at the top pulling myself up and over the edge. I did it. I had ascended one third of what we’d have to ascend tomorrow during the race. I actually felt really comfortable by the end of my climb and was confident that I would be able to safely (but maybe not really fast) ascend during the race tomorrow.
Next up was Luke, who had apparently done this before at some point in his life (or maybe in a past life). He looked like a pro climbing up the rope in short quick steps, barely breaking a sweat. It turns out Luke is a natural ascender. (What a jerk!) That was Greeeat!, he could go first during the race.
Luke: I may have made it up more quickly than you, but I also had the benefit of learning from your mistakes and listening to the great volunteers as they coached you. I’m sure it would have been the other way around if I had gone first.
Bob went last and was definitely more Sasquatch than Ninja Warrior. He took quite a while getting up the rope and nearly exhausted himself. Initially he was pulling himself up with all arms. Bob was trying to horse his way up the rope and was taking these huge, three foot vertical increment steps each time his leg went up.
Dragon called out, “Baby steps, Bob!” trying to make him take smaller strides. I shouted out something like, “Baby Steps, Gil.” Which Luke appreciated and acknowledged with a smile (it was a reference to the cinema classic, What About Bob). I guess I didn’t think to make the connection between Bob Jenkins and Bob Wiley, the title character of the movie. I instead used Bob Wiley’s pet goldfish’s name. For the rest of the climb the instructors kept yelling out instructions for “Gil”. Bob seemed a little confused as to why everybody was calling him “Gil”.
Bob: Yeah, I might have been panicking for a minute there. And the whole time I’m blathering up the wall I’m looking around trying to figure out who this “Gil” person is…I began to think I wasn’t even going to make it 10 feet up that wall, but those volunteers REALLY helped.
Gil was much smoother and moving quickly by the time he reached the top of the tower.
We were now capable of a vertical ascend. Maybe not quickly or with grace, but Team Virtus would be able to get to the top of the 100+ foot cliff in tomorrow’s race.
We headed back to TVC and then over to the mess hall for a spaghetti dinner put on by the Boy Scouts. We had plenty to eat and drink, and attended the pre-race meeting shortly thereafter. Gerry and company told us all the rules and regulations, and briefed us on the really cool, cutting edge “Radio Navigation” section that was going to be a part of the 24 hour race. It sounded very challenging and fun. We were beginning to regret our decision to register for the 12 hour race instead of the 24.
I also heard Gerry say something about wearing long pants or gaiters for this part of the course. I guess I wasn’t really listening that closely to this part since we were doing the 12 hour race and I thought he was talking to just the 24 hour racers.
At the end of the race meeting we received our maps. Our plan was to let Luke (our best navigator) work over the maps while Bob and I ran the bikes to the bike drop. Let me tell you, it was a haul, taking us well over an hour to get the task done. When we returned, we found an ashen-faced Luke sitting half asleep where we had left him. He said he was nauseated and having “intestinal issues” and it was bad enough that if we had signed up for the 24 hour race he would’ve strongly considered withdrawing. That would have left Bob and I to race as a team of two, so once again we were glad to be doing the 12 instead of the 24. This gave Luke another 6 hours to get over his illness and hopefully be well enough to race.
We headed back to TVC for some sleep. Luke and I climbed into our hammocks and Bob slid into his open air sleeping bag on my extra air mattress.
It took me awhile to get comfortable in my new hammock. I was as excited as Ralphie Parker waiting to unwrap his new B.B. gun on Christmas morning for the following morning to finally get here. This excitement coupled with the general commotion of the communal camp left me unable to sleep. I lay there staring at the night sky, pondering the adventure that awaited us the next day.
Luke: I have to break in here. He didn’t just lay there. He tossed and turned, bounced and shimmied, shook, rattled and rolled in that damn hammock. You know what you get when you have a 240 pound man doing that in a nylon hammock right next to you? Waaaaaay too much damn noise! Next time, I’ll position my hammock on the other side of camp.
Bob: For real, it sounded like someone was wearing silk pants and dry humping a leather couch. What were you doing in there?
I was about to drift to sleep when I heard…
…Indian chanting and drums in the distance??
Was I somehow dreaming or awakening from a dream and still hearing this strange music in my head? I sat up in my hammock and pinched myself. No, I wasn’t dreaming and the music was getting louder. Not only was it loud, but it wasn’t stopping. I had no idea what time it was or why an Indian (Native American) Dance of some sort was in progress next to our sleeping quarters.
Then I heard Gerry on a loudspeaker barking out instructions and it then fell into place and began to make sense; It was nearing midnight and the 24 hour racers were lining up to start their race. There was a countdown and a loud “Go” followed by a bunch of yells. They were off.
Now that their race had started I was looking forward to some peace and quiet. That wasn’t going to happen, though. We were all wide awake, listening to the continuous chanting and drums. It continued and continued. Was it going to play all night until the start of our 12 hour race? Good God, I hoped not. I got out of my hammock, took a leak in the brush, and climbed back into my hammock.
Eventually the music was silenced and I fell asleep… for a while.
I was sleeping like a baby when I heard Luke yell out loud and very aggressively, (and I quote), “What the fuck do you want!” This was followed by a few more expletives and confusion on Luke’s part.
Next, I heard buck naked Bob ask where the bug spray was. I think the more appropriate question would’ve been, “Where the hell are Bob’s clothes?” Bob said he was getting eaten alive by bugs. Through a sleep induced fog, Luke thought for a moment and eventually told Bob that the DEET was in the van. He asked Bob if he wanted the keys, but Bob said no, he’d make due until morning. Then he crawled his naked ass back into his sleeping bag and we all went back to sleep.
Luke: Sorry, Bob. When I’m awakened from a dead sleep, I tend to have no idea what’s going on. I didn’t mean to be so harsh. And please put some pants on next time for the love of God!
Bob: If sleeping without pants is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. That being said, I will never forget bugspray again. That was horrible.
We got about four hours of sleep before being awakened by a cacophony of cell phone alarms going off. Within minutes we heard the familiar drums and chanting start up again. This time we didn’t mind the music, we knew it was for us and our race would be starting very soon. Luke informed us that he was feeling much better and thought he’d be able to race. Team Virtus was full strength and we anticipated a great race.
Team Virtus ate a quick breakfast; dropped a deuce (there was no line at the pit toilets) and headed towards the starting line. We quickly grabbed our gear out of the vans and made some last minute adjustments. After a group pre-race picture or two, all the teams bunched up at the starting line. There was a quick count down followed by a loud “Go” and we were off. Another life changing experience had just begun, whether we realized it or not. We took off at a medium paced jog and followed the crowd down the road.
We jogged most of the way down the road to Control Point 1 (CP 1) where we punched our card and picked up our canoes. Unfortunately for us, these were the same boats that we had to use for the LSAR earlier in the year. The same boats that had lead to our now infamous swim in the Mississippi and subsequent strip show on its bank. I am sure this is a nice boat for 2 normal sized paddlers, but we had 3 “rugbyesque” paddlers plus gear that weighed well over 750 pounds. We were all thinking the same thing, but no one said it…..yet.
We picked out a boat that called to us, lifted it over our heads and headed down the trail for the 1.5 mile+ portage to the banks of the Rock River.
About half way there Luke’s intestinal issue resurfaced. Bob and I put the canoe down as Luke ran into the forest to commune with nature. We were passed by 4 or 5 teams while Luke took care of his business, but he eventually rejoined us on the trail. He wasn’t feeling real well, but wanted to continue. Bob and I lifted the boat back up and headed to the river bank.
Once we got there, we punched our card at CP 2 and noticed there was no boat ramp. We had to climb down a steep bank with the canoe and launch from the bank. As we put the boat in the water we had a discussion as to who would sit in the middle of the canoe. We had decided, based on our 2 previous paddles in these canoes that the person in the middle would not paddle due to the instability of a canoe with such a load.
Bob: Check out that arm-vein!!
Bob was stuck in the middle last race and had been working really hard on his paddling all summer and Luke wasn’t feeling good but still really wanted to paddle. It was my turn to take one for the team. I volunteered to sit in the middle and be ferried to the next CP.
Luke: There was clearly some communication problems here, because I truly did not really feel like paddling. Somehow, though we decided I’d be in the back. Boo.
Casey: I was confused why you would paddle when you were feeling so poorly. I apologize for the miscommunication, I assure you that I would have much rather paddled than have to sit entirely motionless for a lengthy period of time. Lesson learned – communicate better next race.
Bob was in the bow and Luke was in charge of steering the canoe in the stern. I was the baggage in the middle being instructed to sit perfectly still and not move at all. Every time I moved even an inch, Luke would let me have it. Apparently, to Luke it felt like the boat was going to tip whenever I moved the slightest bit, and he made it abundantly clear that I was to remain motionless.
We were passed by many teams during the paddle. Some of them looked like less technical paddlers than we consider ourselves to be, but I guess less technique with a third of the weight leads to a faster boat. The paddle leg went very slowly for us, even though Bob and Luke were paddling hard and putting out a lot of effort. I’m pretty sure we were the only canoe with an actual wake. We passed a small bass boat and they had to turn their bow into the waves our boat was putting off.
Luke: A boat with two tiny female racers raced by us. As we looked over at them, it appeared that they were floating completely on top of the water instead of plowing through it with very little freeboard like we were. When I pointed out to them how they didn’t have enough weight in there boat, they said something like, “We’ll take that extra muscle that you’re not using in the middle there.” I then joked, “You can have him. He’s dead-weight anyway!” Bob and I then teased Casey about how he was just an anchor slowing us down. It seemed like we then came up with Casey’s new nickname at the same moment. From now to eternity, Casey will be known as “Anchor Man.” You can also call him Ron Burgandy if you like. Casey, why did you leave this part out?
Casey: An honest mistake I assure you. I am surprised that you didn’t refer them to a previous write where I apologized for being an anchor due to all my flat tires. Stay classy San Diego.
About 30 minutes into a 2 hour paddle Luke transformed into a PMS’ing Betty White. He started to bitch and complain incessantly. We were exposed to several instant classic one-liners, none of which we’ll mention here :), but if you re near our canoe in a future race listen and I am sure that you will hear a constant barage of these vintage Betty White one-liners that we all learned on the Rock River that day. With all his GI issues and with the boat being so hard to maneuver, Luke was in a bit of an uber lousy mood. I only recently found out how bad of shape Luke was really in. I wish he had COMMUNICATED better and I knew how he was feeling during this part of the race. I would have been a little more empathetic had I known.
We were not allowed to joke or goof around. Any time I moved at all I was told to hold still. I was reduced to sitting in the middle with both hands on the gunnels and my legs jammed under the seat in front of me. My feet and legs cramped, my back was burning, and my ass was asleep but I was afraid to adjust. Luke’s fuse was lit and the wick was quickly burning shorter. I hoped he wasn’t going to be”Betty White” the whole race. I wish I had a Snickers and a tampon to hand to him and tell him, “Hey Betty, you’re not you when you’re hungry and on the rag”. I can joke about it now, but Luke was definitely not Luke at this point.
Luke: Yes, I was a total Debbie Downer (aka – a bitch) for the paddling leg of this race. I felt like doo-doo, I didn’t want to be in the back of the boat, and that friggin’ canoe was impossible to maneuver with all of that weight in it. On top of that, I really thought we were going to tip the canoe every time you took a breath. Normally, I’m not like that, though. I apologize to both of you guys for being such a jerk. I just wanted out of that damn canoe. It was by far the least fun I’ve had in a canoe at any AR I’ve done. Although it’s pretty funny to look back on now, it wasn’t very funny at the time. Thanks for putting up with me, fellas.
Casey: I wish I knew how lousy your were really feeling. I commend you for sucking it up, pushing through it, and finishing the race. Plus, I now Bob or I can be a total jerk at a future race and not worry about it because we now have a “get out of jail free” card. Seriously though, that’s what teams are for and we all have our moments. We only grow together by sharing experiences like these. The race was a blast and you rebounded nicely once we were off the river.
At long last, we reached the takeout and made ready to ride some BIKES!!
Luke was Luke again, and that was a very good thing. We quickly transitioned to the bike portion of the race and headed out. We worked our way from the TA to CP 5 and then to CP 6. CP 6 was located at the Historic John Deere Site (where in 1836 John Deere invented the first plow using a discarded saw blade). From here we picked up the rest of the biking CPs and ended up at the Nachusa Grasslands, where the orienteering leg of the race was to take place.
The grasslands consist of 2800 acres of prairie remnants, restorations, and reconstructions. The Nature Conservancy, (using hundreds of volunteers), has re-created an 1800 Illinois mosaic of prairie, savanna, and wetlands. The volunteers literally lie on their bellies picking weeds and planting seeds one at a time. Grasslands need a “disturbance” once in awhile to flourish. You know… Something like a forest fire or a stampede of buffalo. Well, in this case, we adventure racers acted as the buffalo.
Bob: As we rolled into the transition area, Casey stopped and fell over on his bike cuz he couldn’t get his shoe unclipped. It was priceless…effing priceless. If only we had a photo.
Luke: Yeah, that was so damn funny. He just came to a complete stop and fell right over in the middle of 30 racers or so. Amazing. It’s funny how he seemed to leave that part out.
Casey: I was slowing down, unclipped and stepping off my bike when I was told to park on the other side of the clearing. So, I peddled over there without clipping back in but somehow I unknowingly clipped my one shoe back into the pedal. When I slowed down again, I went to step down only to realize that my foot was stuck in the pedal and I went down like a ton of bricks right in front of everybody. I definitely should have included that. Good memory. I wish he had a picture that we could include in the report, I went down hard.
The prairie looks exactly as it did when Chief Black Hawk made this area his home many years ago. How cool is it to see the grasslands exactly the way they were so many years ago? I thought it was an amazing experience; if you’ve never visited a native grassland, you need to experience it.
We were lucky to have been given this opportunity as part of the race. This orienteering leg of the course took place entirely within the Nachusa Grasslands. As we were transitioning from the bikes to the trekking, Bob decided to wear his Tahoe bike shoes because he didn’t feel like putting his wet trail shoes back on. I questioned his logic, guessing that they would soon be wet too. He said he knew what he was doing, so I let it go. We grabbed a Monster energy drink (free courtesy of the sponsors) and headed out into the grasslands.
Trekking through grass that’s over 7 feet tall is an interesting experience to say the least. Believe it or not, it’s not as soft as it looks. It’s viciously sharp and hungry for your exposed flesh.
*NOTE TO FUTURE RACERS* Listen closely when Gerry Voelliger speaks!! If he tells you to wear pants at any time, any place, for any reason…do it. I failed to bring suitable pants (I only had lightweight rain pants that would have been shredded in minutes had I put them on). Somehow my teammates picked up on Gerry’s recommendation but failed to pass it along to me. My legs were soon a burning mess of inflamed and scratched flesh.
We trekked through the first couple of check points without much issue. We enjoyed the experience and unique opportunity to hike through these rare, native grasslands.
At one point, we decided to go into the thicker brush and “bushwhack” to the CP to “save some time”. Not the best decision of the race. It cost us some time hiking up and down consecutive valleys until we found the correct reentrant, and in the end, (since hindsight is always 20/20) we realized we could have followed a groomed path to the CP. Whatever…nothing ventured nothing gained.
Luke: Yeah, that was my call. Sorry about that. I hate when that happens!
From here we headed down the hill and to a road. We decided against the road and took the “shortest distance between two points” route. We were walking through some of the thickest weeds, vines, thorns, and trees that you could imagine. I was following close to Luke when we came out on another road. We turned back and there was no sight of Bob. We called out to him, and he answered that he was all right, but “stuck in some really thick shit.”
We sort of chuckled because we knew what he was walking through. Several minutes passed and still no Bob. Finally, we began to hear brush moving and some swearing, but we still had no visual. Then we saw the tops some 7 foot high grass move. It was like we were being stalked by a velociraptor from Jurassic Park.
Then we caught a quick glimpse of Bob’s head before it quickly disappeared back into the grass. Some more grass crunching, sticks breaking, swearing, and then Bob popped out of the thicket.
Bob: That hurt so bad.
We proceeded to collect the rest of the CPs in the grasslands. We finally wised up a little and took the grass road through the grasslands back to the TA even though it was a little further. We had had enough of pushing through grass, thorns, cattails, and poison ivy (if the volunteers pick weeds and control all that grows in the grasslands, why is there so much poison ivy?).
The tall grass presented us with a problem we’d never encountered before: Some of the pollen, (I guess), was getting in Bob’s eyes and blinding him. His eyes were really bothering him, and it eventually became a big enough problem that something had to be done about it.
We couldn’t have Bob stumbling around the grasslands blindly. But what do you do about this kind of thing? It’s pretty simple, really: You spit clean water in his face.
Bob: Hey, it worked.
Luke: Hey, I was more than happy to do it.
Upon arrival at the TA, we grabbed a couple Monster Energy Drinks (I think Bob ended up drinking all three of our drinks).
We had to pick burdocks and hitchhikers out of our clothes and leg hair as part of preparing for the bike ride. We climbed on our bikes and hauled ass back to camp for the part of the race we were most were looking forward to…the pack rafting leg.
I must preface this section with a little back ground. You see, we have been practicing for this event all summer. Luke and I purchased the Sevylor Trail Boat back in late May or early June. I practiced paddling mine on Canandaigua Lake in New York and Luke and Bob practiced numerous times on lakes and rivers in Missouri. One day in late July, Bob decided to push the limits of the Trail Boat and ran a flooded creek in it. It worked great, right up until he tore a huge gash in the bottom of the boat and sank it.
Bob had planned to replace Luke’s boat and buy himself another Trail Boat for the race. The only problem was that Sevylor no longer made this boat and all vendors were out of stock. You could not purchase a new or used Sevylor Trail Boat anywhere in New York, Missouri, or on the internet. We looked everywhere. What were we going to do? The race was only a few weeks away and we only had 1 one-person pack raft. We looked at other Sevylor rafts as well as some Alpaca Rafts (which would’ve been ideal, but we just could not justify the cost).
That’s when we got lucky and found out about the cool kids at flyweightdesigns.com. They’re a company here in the UNITED STATES that produces the flytepacker. It’s lighter than the Trail boat, tougher than nails and half the price of an Alpacka. I can inflate mine in less than 2 minutes and it deflates in seconds.
Bob: I should also mention that their customer service is phenomenal. I’ve been in contact with them no less than a dozen times and am always impressed with their service. Every time I call them I get to talk to a real person,(usually a feller named Marc), and when I send email I ALWAYS get a quick response. Top notch service without fail, and that’s no bullshit. These guys are the real deal, and their boat is pretty damn good too.
As we rode into the TA from the final Bike CP we were like giddy school girls and seemed to have a surge in our energy levels. We got the rafts out and went to work to inflating them as fast as we possibly could. The Flytepackers were inflated in less than 3 minutes and the Trail Boat in about 10. As we were getting all of our stuff together, we heard a volunteer yell that all 12 hour racers just coming in would be short-coursed to the final trekking leg and forced to skip the packrafting section. I can’t convey to you the disappointment, heartbreak and then anger we felt at this point. I actually thought Bob was going to start crying. He was by far the most excited to test out his new raft. We’d been looking forward to this all summer and had spent a lot of money just for this part of the race.
Bob and Luke were getting ready to deflate the rafts and move on with the race. I told them to wait a second and left our area in the TA area. I walked over to the volunteer area and asked if we were included in the group that was being short-coursed and gave them our race number. They checked the clipboard and told me we were NOT short-coursed and that we could do the pack rafting leg if we wanted to do so.
Did I detect a sadistic smirk on his face or was it just my imagination? I decided he was happy for us because he sensed how badly we wanted to raft.
I ran back to the TA and told my dejected teammates we weren’t being short-coursed and we could do the pack raft leg “if we wanted to”.
“If” we wanted to do the pack raft leg? Of course we want to pack raft!! That’s what we came here for!! We grabbed our crap and took off West toward the river.
This is where things started turning sour. You see, we never took the time to walk to the river front at the camp prior to the race. So when we left the TA, we headed off into some campsites and were nowhere near the river. I suggested heading back to the TA to find a trail leading to the river, but Luke and Bob voted against it. They were afraid if we went back, we wouldn’t be allowed to start the pack raft leg. I went along with the team’s decision knowing the river still had to be west of our current location and it couldn’t be much further. We found a little trail heading west and took it.
This trail quickly became very challenging as we started to climb over piles of brick and block debris. How was this trail to the river front? I had a hard time visualizing little boy scouts walking down this trail. I’m pretty sure we were in a ditch that had been used to dump all the building refuse over the years.
Luke: As much as I hate to admit it, we should have listened to Casey here. On the other hand, I’d like to point out the remnants of a chocolate energy bar on Casey’s lip in the above photo as he’s strangling me. Gross!
Casey: I always think it is prudent to save a little for later. How could you not tell me there was chocolate on my mouth? We’re teammates and brothers; we don’t shake hands we hug. You can tell me when I have some crap on my mouth.
Then it got steeper, thornier, and there was a drop off. We were considering turning back when Bob saw a “fresh footprint”. How the hell did he now it was fresh? I speculated it was somehow related to his self sacrificing actions the previous night. Based on the fact that another team must have gone this way and that it headed west, we decided to push on. Anyway, we had to be closer to the river than we were to the TA at this point. We climbed down a little rocky drop off and it got even worse, more thorns, overhead brush, and then the mosquitoes.
The bugs were so dense you could literally scrape them off your body. I remembered the photos we saw of Ron (one e of the race volunteers and also an instructor form the High Profile Adventure Camp) from when he fell asleep without any bug netting or bug spray. His face was swollen, bloated, and discolored. He hardly looked like himself at all. I wondered if we’d wind up like that. How many mosquito bites can you get before you have an allergic reaction? Has anybody ever died from mosquito bites? Why did we not remember to put on any bug repellent at the TA before we left?
I guess we were in such a hurry and so excited to get in our rafts? We decided to continue west, being chased by the buzzing swarm. Eventually we arrived at the shore and we all ran out into the river in search of relief. The water was refreshingly cool and the bugs couldn’t get to any part that was underwater.
We assumed that we were up river from the CP as we could see a couple of boats heading up river and decided to float down river. In a few minutes we hit the CP and beached our rafts. We quickly punched our card and hopped back into our rafts. It was time to put our sharply honed skills in our pack rafts to use.
We took off paddling at a good pace and made some gains against the current. We had to decide whether to go to the left or right of the islands in the middle of the river. I’m not really sure why we decided to go to the left but we did. Luke was a little ahead of me and Bob was a little behind me.
We worked hard to get across the current near the island so that we could hug the farshoreline, in hope of less current and an easier paddle. Luke made some progress and was a little ahead of me now. I found a tree on the bank that was maybe 7 or 8 feet up river and thought I’d see how long it took me to get there. I paddled and paddled and paddled some more. It took me about 10 minutes.
10 minutes to go less than 10 feet? Are you kidding me? I tried to calculate in my oxygen deprived mind how long the paddle would take at this rate. This was not good.
After another 20 or 30 minutes of aggressive paddling, I came to an area of the river that narrowed because of a fallen tree. I paddled balls out for a good five minutes and moved at most 6 inches. I floated a few feet down river and eddied out behind the fallen tree, catching my breath and transitioning to a more aggressive paddling position (I was now on my knees and closer to the front). With a little prayer and a shout I pushed off the bank to try one more time. I really dug deep, and after much effort I made it to the end of the tree. I hung to the tree, trying to recover and slowly pulled myself a little further up river.
This wasn’t working so I pushed off and began paddling balls to the wall once again. I moved 2 to 3 inches with each stroke and would slip back down river a good inch before I could get the other blade back into the water. So this means that I was netting 1 to 2 inches per stroke. I looked up and realized that I was being passed by a guy and a woman. They were walking in the river pushing their boat and moving faster than I was in an all out paddle. I processed my options and rolled over the edge of my boat and into the water. I too was able to move more quickly employing this technique.
I figured I still had at least half way to go before I reached the next CP. I kept walking and pushing my boat in water ranging from waist to neck deep. The terrain underfoot varied from loose sand to shin-deep river mud. Oh, I forgot to mention the current pushing against my “rugbyesque” torso. It was not fun, but we weren’t the only ones suffering. This part of the course was a real equalizer; Skinny, fat, short and tall…the river was punishing everyone. We saw a LOT of teams give up and head back downstream.
As I walked along I made friends with a happy couple, Josh and Tina, from Team 13 Inches. We chatted and worked together to get upriver. At one point, we formed a 3-person chain and pulled one another across the current. Very good sportsmen, those two…together we made our journey up river and had some great conversation getting to know each other.
We continued to walk up river. I had no idea how far behind me Bob was or how far ahead of me Luke was at this point. I just knew I had to push onward and find my teammates. As I came around the end of the island, I saw Luke sitting in the Trail Boat with his feet up on the side just chilling out in the water, as if he was working on his tan. What a jerk.
I said goodbye to my new friends and made my way into the still water where he was waiting. Luke asked where Bob was. I didn’t know; there was just no way to stick together out in that current. I hadn’t seen him since we were trying to get past the first bottleneck of the river. This was taking us much longer than we anticipated; we had to wonder if skipping the rafting leg may have been the better decision.
Then in the distance we saw a tall, hairless Sasquatch like creature walking upriver humped over his raft. He was shirtless and had his shorts hiked up to his ribcage (a great look for Bob). We waited until he was in shouting distance and then we showered him with encouraging words. Once again, Team Virtus was all together.
We proceeded upriver as a single unit, Bob and I pushing our fancy rafts and Luke paddling his Trail Boat. Finally, we reached the beach and gladly climbed out of the water. What was the reward for all of this effort? A short walk around a bluff and then up over 100 steps to a scenic overlook.
As I climbed the first few stairs my quads began to cramp a bit. I ignored the cramping and pushed up the stairs eager to see the view from the top. I was sure this lookout was the same one I had seen online. This photo is taken looking downstream. See that bend in the water towards the right of the photo? That’s the island we were talking about earlier. Take a moment to look at the current and feel sorry for the poor bastartds in that tiny fleck of a yellow raft on the right.
Finally, we were at the top and took a few minutes to enjoy the vistas. We snapped a few pictures and then headed back down the stairs and to our rafts.
We were looking forward to a leisurely float down river to the takeout. As we pushed off, Luke and I looked back and saw Bob actively engaged in enjoying this experience. All that was missing was a couple of beers in his boat. He had his shoes off and his feet propped up on the edges of his boat. He was fully reclined and relaxing.
We took our time and really enjoyed the beauty of the river for the first time. We knew the race was almost over so we wanted to savor this experience together.
We quickly reached the takeout and climbed to the shore. Why did it take us 90 minutes to go upriver and only 5 minutes to come down? I wished it could have somehow been the other way around. We deflated our boats and headed back to the TA. Once we checked back in and got our final orienteering map we realized that we only had about 25-30 minutes before the end of the race. Luke voted to call it a day but Bob and I wanted to try for one more CP.
Betty… I mean Luke was too exhausted to lead, and felt there was no way we could get to the nearest CP and return to the finish line in the remaining time. I wasn’t really “feeling” the map, but wanted to try for one more CP and new Luke was our best chance of making it happen. He had been point on all day with the navigation.
Luke: Actually, I was pretty crushed at this point. I had dreamed about a good performance at this race for so long that realizing we weren’t going to come close to clearing the course took the wind right out of my sails. I guess that’s why Betty White was back. Well that, and the fact that I was almost positive we couldn’t get another CP in time.
Bob is the least experienced navigator on the team (he says he can’t navigate for s**t – his words not mine), but he gamely decided to jump in with both feet and lead for once. He took charge and said “F’ it, I’ll lead.” He looked at the map, took a quick bearing and we were off. Bob was using dead reckoning , putting us on a course straight from point A to point B. (a direct route as the crow flies).
We were in a dead run in a race against the clock, and running isn’t exactly our specialty (yet). As we started into the woods, Betty… er, Luke mentioned we could take the trail around a ravine and get there quicker and easier.
Bob responded with, “Who’s leading!?!”
Bob: I regretted saying that even as it was coming out of my mouth. It was a very tense moment and I felt like someone needed to take charge. There wasn’t time for deliberation, only enough time to make a quick decision and commit to it. I think we all had some out-of-character moments that day.
Luke: Agreed. I shouldn’t have even second-guessed you. You manned-up. We didn’t. ‘Nuf said.
Casey: Yeah, nice job Bob. Way to take charge we really needed somebody to. I should have done it and dropped the ball forcing it onto you. I owe you one. In hind sight, we probably didn’t have enough time to get another point but I felt like we needed to end on a positive note.
So we went his way, up and down a ravine covered with thorns and poison ivy. Then we came out on a trail, so I guess Betty was right but Bob was in charge. We plunged down into another steep ravine lined with even more thorns and poison ivy. As we came out of that mess, we hit another trail and stopped for a clock and map check.
Chances were pretty good that we’d miss the cutoff if we pushed on to get this last CP. Should we chance it? It would definitely be close. Could we push the pace and make it?
I wanted that last CP so badly. It would somehow put a positive finish on a very difficult and challenging race. We could finish strong and on our own terms, but our fear of missing the cutoff was stronger than our desire to get the last CP. As a team, we decided to head back to the finish line and call it a day.
And so we finished on a bit of a low note. We felt dejected and disappointed with our performance. We had trained hard for this race, and we had overcome several injuries just to be here. Our goal was to clear the course and finish as quickly as we could. Well, we finished as quickly as we could, but we didn’t clear the course.
We never made it to the 300 foot zip-line/ascension CP. I wish we could have but I wouldn’t have traded it for the pack raft experience. We finished as a team, learned a lot from this race, and grew closer despite the temper flare-ups. We overcame adversity and a sick teammate’s near-meltdown. After all of this we were still teammates, friends, and brothers.
Luke: And that’s what a true TEAM does. Big thanks to both of you guys for putting up with and carrying me in my darkest moments.
Casey: I am just paying it forward for when you’ll have to do the same for me.
Luke: Wait… Wouldn’t that be paying it in advance?
We looked forward to a nice evening together. After a quick shower and a snack (fresh hot pizza, nuts, and Gatorade provided by the race) we headed to a local watering hole where we met up with ”Peace By inches”, another team we had become friends with during the race.
We were in for a real treat, not only was the food good and the beer cold… they had live entertainment. We got rocked out by the hard core heavy metal band, Rat Baxter. They sang plenty of covers and a couple of originals. They continually rocked too hard and blew the power in the whole bar at least 4 or 5 times. Bob was really into the band and got our whole group into it. We had a blast. At one point the local ladies were out on the dance floor cutting a rug. Our table began chanting Bob…Bob…Bob.
Bob did not let us down, he answered the call. He hopped up and owned the dance floor, shaking his ass like he was gettin’ paid. The ladies were all over him and he can really dance.
He was, however, being closely watched by one of the ladies’ companions. Some crazy ass biker wearing just a black leather vest (if you looked closely you could catch a glimpse of an occasional nipple) had a 10 inch bone handle hunting knife strapped to his side. It looked like Mic Dundee’s knife from the classic movie Crocodile Dundee.
Luke: This sounds completely fabricated, but it’s all true. I was there, and I can confirm all of this.
Bob: The one that sticks out in my memory most is the short one in front of me who’s looking down. I think she had ideas..I’m glad we got out of there when we did.
Luckily, the dance ended uneventfully and we finished our meal and drinks as the band rocked on.
Since our ears were bleeding a bit and our throats were getting sore from trying to talk over the “music”, we decided to relocate to different bar. Here we hung out, relaxed, and exchanged war stories from the day’s race and races gone by. Time flew by, but we wanted to get back to see the last teams from the 24-hour race cross the finish line. We said goodbye to our new friends and headed back to the camp.
We arrived with plenty of race time left to “clap in” the last three 24 hour team across the finish line. While it’s impressive to see the first teams cross the finish line, there’s something to be said for those teams that get by on guts and grit, and persevere just for the experience. You should have seen their faces as they crossed the finish line. They were totally spent physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but there was certainly an aura of pride and accomplishment surrounding them.
There are always plenty of people around to clap in the winners and top teams. However, there are often only race organizers and a few volunteers there to see the last few teams in. We’ve been there. Whenever possible (if we are not the last team) we like to see the last handful of teams cross the finish line. They’re kindred spirits and are just as important to the sport as the top teams are.
Great job by all teams that raced. Thank you to all of the volunteers for making the race a success. Thank you to Team High Profile for putting on such a “REAL” race that challenged us physically as well as mentally. Also, a big thanks to all the sponsors who made it all possible.
Two things I learned from this race that you’ll want to know for future Lightening Strikes Adventure Races and Thunder Rolls Adventure Races are as follows:
1) If Gerry recommends that you wear pants for any reason, at any time, at any place…DO IT! Don’t doubt him, don’t question him, don’t argue, just do it!!!
2) Gerry Vollinger is one sadistic SOB (we love him and could definitely feel his love for us during the upriver pack raft paddle).
Screw you you’re the man, Gerry:)
Casey: Thanks for putting on such a “REAL” race Gerry. It took me a while to really appreciate the experience. We had a great time and a real memorable experience. We are looking forward to the LSAR and the Thunder Rolls next year (or this year – 2011).
Luke: Yup, a big thanks to Gerry and all of the unbelievable volunteers. You guys put on one helluva race! And Gerry, you are a piece of work… in a good way.
I guess no race report is complete without the results, right? Well, as disappointed and demoralized as we were, and with as much BS that we went through together as a team, we actually did much better than we had anticipated. We ended up in 4th place out of 8 teams in the 3-person open division (finishing only 12 minutes behind the 3rd place team), and we finished in 8th place out of 40 teams overall. Apparently, the pack-rafting took its toll on other teams as well. Four teams DNFed, and only two teams cleared the course.
Now that time has passed, I look back at the experience fondly and know that we’ll be back next year for both races. Don’t be discouraged by this report, see it as a challenge and rise up to it. You’ll grow from the experience and after it’s all over and time passes….. you too will look back fondly at the experience and smile. We’ll see you there next year (I guess it’s later this year now, isn’t it?).